Tag Archives: female protagonists

YA Female Protagonists in STEM

7 Aug

We need more female protagonists in STEM fields, especially in YA. For those of you who don’t know, STEM covers science, technology, engineering, and math. The reason STEM needs to be explored more in YA fiction is to encourage young women to explore those fields in real life more.

Hold the eye rolls.

I get it. I know that there are real-life role models to look up to in those fields already. But a lot of younger people—myself included—enjoy looking up to fictional role models, too. When I was a kid, fictional characters strangely felt more attainable, more inspirational, more…like me.

Sometimes, it’s easier for a fourteen-year-old to look up to a fourteen-year-old scientist rather than Marie Curie. (And more fun.) This is why I’m advocating for a bigger emphasis on STEM in YA fiction, but there’s another, more personal reason as well.

Oh, hey there, science.

Here’s the deal. I hated science in school. Loathed it. Biology was the hardest course for me in high school and college. I hated biology…but I loved chemistry. I also love math. I also love technology and engineering. But as a young girl, I hit a couple roadblocks while studying it.

In school, for instance, I signed up for Tech 101 instead of Home Ec. I was immediately approached by an office clerk who thought I made a mistake. On top of that, one of my teachers actually had to the gall to “make sure” I wanted to take Tech 101 instead of Home Ec since I didn’t have a mother at home. If that wasn’t discouraging enough, I came second place in a bridge building competition later that semester…only for the teacher to pull me aside and tell me I should’ve won. (The winner, it turned out, had cheated. But did the school correct it? No. I just got a secret pat on my back.) If I could tell you what it felt like to then see that boy congratulated, to hear my fellow classmates say “You almost lost to a girl, dude” like that was the worst thing ever, I would. But I still don’t have words for it.

STEM didn’t exactly welcome me.

I recall these moments in my life where I loved science, technology, engineering, and math—and I was good at it, too—but numerous adults in my life discouraged it anyway. Granted, I’m not saying I would’ve chased an engineering degree if these things hadn’t happened. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would’ve chased English no matter what. Why? Because my university asked me to become a math major after I scored 100% on one of their harder exams…and I still turned it down.

Now I’m an author…and authors are engineers of stories. So, I set out to write a book where my protagonist is involved with science.

Kalina came to me that night. She’s sixteen, a botanist, and she invents machines that help water her plants when she’s too busy studying them. Botany takes on a huge role in my book. So much so that one of my critique partners asked an interesting question: How are you going to get readers to sympathize with plants instead of people?

Well…I’m not.

I’m not asking readers to sympathize with plants over people. I’m asking readers to see how interesting plants can be. To see an awesome, smart, and talented young woman studying her scientific passion. To open their minds to science.

Kalina opened my mind, and I love everything she taught me. Granted, I still can’t grow a flower to save my life (especially with cats in the house), but I have a deeper appreciation for botany. Above all, I have a deeper appreciation for science.

YA readers deserve more of that, too.

~SAT

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#WW Help! My Female Character Is Flat

14 Sep

I’m guilty! Oh, so guilty.

While writing my latest manuscript for my publisher, I hit a snag 38,000 words in, and could not—for the life of me—figure out what was wrong with it. Then, I realized what happened.

My female protagonist was flat.

Allow me to back track for a little bit.

I never used to have this problem. When I first set out to write books, I honestly feel like I was a better writer than I am now. At least, in regards to the first draft. I would simply let my work be what it needed to be. Now, I’m bombarded with so many rules and expectations (some awesome, some not-so-awesome) that I end up worrying about what I should be writing instead of worrying about what my book actually is, who my characters truly are, and how things will happen naturally.

Example? Well, let’s go back to where I started. My flat female character. Why was she flat? Because she wasn’t flawed. So, why wasn’t she flawed? Because I was afraid. I kept thinking about all the things readers want (and don’t want) a female character to be. Tough but not too tough. Girly but not too girly. A good friend, a completely independent lover, a strong-minded leader, a determined dreamer, and someone who never faints from total exhaustion from all that perfect-ness.

I take issue with too much expectation, especially in young adult fiction where characters are coming of age and still trying to figure out who they are, what they want, and how they’re going to achieve it. But I get it. I do. As a reader myself, I know readers are harder on female characters, because the world is harder on females in general. I have my moments, too! It’s ingrained into us, after all. But I hadn’t realized how much it was affecting books until my paranormal romance trilogy released last year. Spoiler warning now, I was shocked that my male protagonist could take a two-ton car, throw a hissy fit, and crash it at 100 mph without so much as a blink of judgment, while my female character was called all kinds of nasty names because she went underage drinking with her friends and got into some trouble. Personally, I think his choice was much more destructive considering how he could’ve killed someone else—or an entire car full of innocent people—while her reckless decision really only put herself in danger. (And she was with friends she should’ve been able to trust.) All that aside, though, only one of them was judged. And she was judged harshly. (Shameless plug: I’m talking about Seconds Before Sunrise.)

As much as I wish I could say this didn’t affect me, I think it did.

Now, when I approach my female characters, I’m hesitant to let them make any mistakes at all. I’m afraid to let them cry (because they’ll be deemed whiny), but I never hesitate to let my male characters cry (because when they cry, they are somehow seen as deep and approachable and need to be comforted).

It’s extremely frustrating, because I am also a female, and I know these judgments extend far beyond the pages of my books. It’s also why I fight my own fears to keep my female characters round. In a world that is constantly trying to flatten female characters, I will fight to keep them round. I will even fight myself—my own misconceptions and…well, flaws.

Before, I held myself back, and therefore, I held my female character back, and I apologize for that.

She is not someone I should hold back. She is strong and weak and happy and sad. She’s dealing with trauma and dreaming about the future and falling in and out of what she thinks might be love (but she isn’t sure), and she is reckless for all kinds of reasons. She also cares deeply about those around her…and sometimes she forgets to care about herself, too. But she will do her best and she will make mistakes, and the combination of both is what matters, because that is who she is.

I will not worry whether or not readers will hate or love or judge her, because she is her, and that is who she is supposed to be. And this is her story to tell, not mine.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Where My Girls At?

7 Mar

Intro:

Shannon, here, but only for a bit. Today, I have a wonderful guest blogger with an equally as wonderful guest post. Kendra L. Saunders is a time-and-space traveling fashionista author. Even better? She’s broadening the horizon for female characters by featuring a protagonist in her late 20’s, a very underrepresented group in fiction, and today, she’s writing about why it’s so important that we give this group a bit more attention. Welcome, Kendra!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in guest articles are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect my own. To show authenticity of the featured writer, articles are posted as provided (a.k.a. I do not edit them). However, the format may have changed.

Where My Girls At? by Kendra L. Saunders

Getting older is weird, isn’t it? I guess for some people it happens at a pace that feels normal, and you sense yourself progressing from a teenager to a young adult, falling in love, getting married, settling down, having a kid, or getting divorced and floating around in a mansion with only your fine champagne, pool boy, and fancy lingerie collection to keep you company.

For me, aging has been a cyclical waking dream of confusing beginnings and ends, exciting adventures, and a few too many sinus issues to keep track of.

Maybe it’s the artist lifestyle, but I never followed the well lit path from an early romance to a kid, steady job, functioning car, and 10pm bedtime. I’ve lived in Texas, New Hampshire, Idaho, Wisconsin, Ohio, and New York City. I’ve been a cool/cute music store clerk, a waitress, a skincare saleswoman at NYC’s 34th St. Macy’s, a telemarketer, a caterer to celebrity guests (yay Oprah), a marketing guru for YA books, and a retail cashier, among many other jobs. I’ve attended New York Fashion Week (twice, and counting), had a book signing at BEA in New York City, spent two amazing weeks in England all by my lonesome for research and recreation, and been front row at some of the coolest concerts ever.

I’ve also lived in a haunted apartment, dealt briefly with bedbugs (eww) and saw a gang leap out from behind a parked car and shoot someone right in front of my eyes in Brooklyn one night while I walked home.

Between all of these adventures and misadventures, I’ve picked up female friends from all over the world, from every pay grade and lifestyle choice. One thing that many of us have in common is that we are in our 20s-40s and still putting the pieces together. The women of our modern world have a new set of challenges that they haven’t before… we live in an expensive world, we work hard for what we have, and less and less of us are finding (or keeping) romantic partners, for a myriad of reasons. Many of us are finding our partners when we are older than ever before, too.

After working for a YA publisher, I saw firsthand that many readers of the increasingly popular YA genre are not actually teenagers, but ladies 20-45yrs who enjoy the fun storylines and fast pace of YA novels. At first I wondered if I had just missed out on something huge and everyone else was reliving the best years of their life. My own teenage years were a blur of anguish, loneliness, religious confusion, and abuse. Did everyone else really have all of these great adventures and romances in high school? I mean, maybe some people really did fall in love with hot vampires, go on adventures to Ibiza, sip expensive champagne, and hang out with fashion designers when they were 16. Hey, the Kardashians exist! It’s possible, sure.

But the truth is, there’s a scary gap in entertainment between sexy seventeen year old girls and the middle age stresses of traditional femininity. Bond girls seem to get younger and younger with every Bond movie. Even the chick lit category seems to be moving younger and older respectively. (Thank God for you, Sophie Kinsella. Please never stop writing!)

Women looking for exciting stories featuring female characters are flooding to the YA genre, because that’s where all the fun stories are.

I don’t see many of my friends in pop culture, and Amy Schumer can’t carry the almost-30-heroine torch alone.

Ebook- Date an AlienWith my upcoming book Dating an Alien Pop Star, I have a female protagonist who’s a lot like the women I know. Daisy didn’t have the easiest time in her teenage years… or her early 20s… or her mid 20s. Somewhere in her late 20s she decided to take a major risk and throw away the safe life that had been pushed on her, and move to New York City. Of course she’s kidnapped by aliens almost immediately, because nothing ever, ever, ever goes how you expect it to in New York.

Daisy also falls on the demi side of the sexuality spectrum, so she’s avoided hookup culture and finds herself at the crossroads of 30, single, and not sure if she feels as guilty about it as society says she should. She’d really like a partner, but until she finds one worth her time, she’s going to take care of herself and her dreams, thank you very much.

It gets discouraging for people like Daisy (and me, or you) when we see all the great, fun, exciting stories only going to beautiful CW-channel teenagers or twenty-one-year-olds who are preternaturally wealthy and well connected. Those stories are fun, sure, but they shouldn’t be all we see. We need first time love stories with a twenty-seven year old woman. With a thirty-five year old. With a forty-one year old. There are vampires, princes/princesses, and cute firemen to be met, even if you’re thirty-one. There are quests to go on, even at thirty-six. There are adventures for aromantic/asexual women who want to do something amazing and don’t care about falling in love. If guys can have movies and books about their life at every single age from 10-98, shouldn’t us ladies?

Bio:

12391420_10153788569476411_2361644470289704466_nKendra L. Saunders is a time-and-space traveling fashionista author who writes books about magical, dark-haired men, interviews famous people, and suggests way too many bands to you via whatever social media platform she can get her hands on. She writes with good humor because humor is the best weapon for a girl who can’t learn karate (or ballroom dancing). She is the author of upcoming sci-fi rom-com DATING AN ALIEN POP STAR, upcoming fantastical comedy THE UNLOVE SPELL, the magic realism novel INANIMATE OBJECTS, the dark comedy DEATH AND MR. RIGHT and the poetry collection GEMINIS AND PAST LIVES.

Find her online at www.kendralsaunders.com, on twitter at @kendrybird, and on instagram @kendralsaunders

Dating an Alien Pop Star: Amazon

Want to be a guest blogger? I would love to have you on! I accept original posts that focus on reading and writing. Pictures, links, and a bio are encouraged. You do not have to be published. If you qualify, please email me at shannonathompson@aol.com.

~SAT

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